And the Winner Is…
If you’ve been following My Fab Fifties Life for awhile you will remember our 2017 World Travel Awards and our 2018 World Travel Awards from previous Januarys. I definitely feel with all of our travels in 2019 (covering 40,000 miles and 12 countries) we are well positioned to once again deliver our World Travel Awards 2019 on many people, places and travel experiences that have touched us this past year. Just like the Oscar movie awards, we have seen a world of real life drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery, nature and animation. Enough to last a lifetime. This annual blog is one of our favorites to write and one we always create together. And in past years it has also been one of our best read – so we really hope you enjoy it once again.
This is a long blog. But I believe it offers some valuable travel insight to the world. I hope you will find it informative and entertaining. Please enjoy our third annual World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2019 – My Fab Fifties Life.
For reference – our 2019 countries visited were; Costa Rica, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, USA, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Oman and Kenya. Due to our efforts for much slower travel, this is half as many countries as 2018.
Favorite Overall Country – Guatemala with honorable mention to Myanmar (title photo above, Lake Atitlan Guatemala)
You’ll find a clear pattern through out the awards this year with Guatemala winning several awards. It is just a very unique and special country, with few tourists, fantastic food, gorgeous scenery, amazing history and quiet and hard working people. And it’s cheap.
This all can be said for Myanmar as well. We hope to return to both of these countries in the future.
Favorite City – Antigua
Well there it is again – Guatemala. Antigua is a remarkable city of ancient history in the shadow of a live volcano and for us visiting the weekend of Semana Santa gave us the most unique and incredible experience we could ever hope for.
Most Beautiful City – Shanghai China
Shanghai is the antithesis to Beijing – brand new, sparkling clean, stunningly beautiful (especially at night), easy to maneuver and very pedestrian friendly, Shangahi was our favorite beautiful city of the year.
Cutest Town – Big Fork Montana USA
We spent four months in the USA this year, getting out to visit some new places and some old favorites. Big Fork Montana was a new addition to our travels and it is just so quintisential America; cowboys, artists, wildlife and good food too. We hope to visit again.
Most Expensive Country – Oman and the USA
Oman and the USA tie for most expensive, although neither was outrageously expensive and should not deter anyone from visiting.
Least Expensive Country – Malaysia
Malaysia doesn’t feel poor like some African countries, but the cost of visiting there is dirt cheap. One of the least expensive destinations per day we have visited and we enjoyed all four of the Malaysian areas we visited.
Most Disappointing City – Mandalay Myanmar
Although Myanmar lands at the top of our list this year for many things, the city of Mandalay was a disappointment and I would skip it when recommending a Myanmar tour.
15 Airbnbs, 19 hotels, 1 boat
Best Airbnb Overall – Mal Pais Costa Rica. We spent two weeks with our friends Randy and Sue in this gorgeous beach front Airbnb on the southwest coast of Costa Rica far from the crowds. We were well cared for by an onsite staff person, we witnessed the most incredible wildlife right in our own front yard, and had the most perfect nightly sunset show I’ve seen anywhere in the world. See it here.
Best Airbnb for Service – Diani Beach Kenya. Our lovely little cottage in Diani Beach Kenya came with daily maid service (she even washed the dishes), laundry service (a tiny additional cost), wonderful onsite owners who helped with tours and questions. We spent Christmas with these people and enjoyed having them around us for the holidays. See it here.
Best Airbnb for Authenticity –Antigua Guatemala
Our one-room loft with small kitchen in a historic Antigua home included an outdoor patio that overlooked the traditional inner courtyard as well as the ACTIVE volcano which at night we could see shooting lava into the sky. Wow. Unforgettable. See it here.
Least Expensive Airbnb – Diani Beach Kenya (see above for Best Service Airbnb) at $65 a night. We spent three weeks in a darling cottage with pool. It was an incredible value for everything we got and we felt right at home.
Most Unique Airbnb – Lake Atitlan Guatemala. Hands down one of the most beautiful yet also somewhat strange accommodations I have ever stayed in. We lived for 8 days in a cave basically, with the kitchen, living area and deck built in and around the boulders of the cave, a bathroom one level below in another cave and the bedroom, another level below that. Unforgettable. It was 270 steps to access the cave house from the road below. But oh what a view. See it here.
Favorite Hotel – Inle Lake Myanmar, The Myanmar Treasure Resort. Far and away above any other hotel we stayed in this year, the beauty and uniqueness of the Myanmar Treasure Resort had us giddy with joy during our two week stay in our over-the-water bungalow. And the staff and service was impeccable. See it here.
Worst Hotel – Crooked Tree Resort Belize. I’ve tried to block the one horrible night we spent in this dirty and rodent infested house with broken furniture and mold, from my mind. We were supposed to be there for four nights. We packed up at first light and disappeared.
Favorite Country Cuisine – Guatemala
Healthy use of local and fresh vegetables and beans with just enough protein I fell hard for the unique spices and flavors of the Guatemalan people’s cuisine.
Best Meal – Myanmar Treasure Resort offered a wonderful menu of local specialties and the local “Butterfish” was my favorite meal of 2019.
Best Cooking Class – Antigua Guatemala and Hopkins Belize. We couldn’t decide between these wonderful experiences. In Antigua I had a private class at La Tortilla Cooking School from a Mayan woman with an English interpreter. We made at lease 8 dishes and all were spectacular. In Hopkins my entire family enjoyed an afternoon with Garifuna Chef Gloria where we learned so much about the local Garifuna traditions, local produce and fish and gorged ourselves on the delicious cuisine.
Best Beer – USA all the way on this one, particularly since we didn’t spend any time in Europe, the beer of the USA is hands down the best.
Best Coffee – Guatemala. There is Guatemala again (I bet you really want to go there now dontcha?). I loved the coffee in Guatemala where they produce the best from the America’s – a deep rich and almost chocolaty brew. Kenya rivals it with their mountain grown beans that are often touted as the best in the world. For me though I preferred the dark beans of Guatemala over the lighter somewhat fruity Kenyan roasts. Both however got the job done and the smell was heaven on earth.
Best Food Experience/Tour – Taipei and Kuala Lumpur Two of the all-time best food tours we have ever taken happened this year, the first in Taipei Taiwan with Taipei Eats and the second in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia with Food Tour Malaysia . For both these tours the food was beyond abundant but it was the guides who really made sure our experience was remarkable and unique.
CULTURAL AND NATURAL EXPERIENCES
Best Sunset – Mal Pais Costa Rica. For fourteen glorious nights in a row we sat on a log on the beach, gin and tonic in hand, and watched the show…a fiery blend of orange, pink and purple as each day in Mal Pais came to an end. It was truly remarkable.
Most Authentic Cultural Experience – Muscat Oman dining with a local family. We were lucky to stumble onto the Website of Zayr, a local organization who brings visitors together with local Omani’s. Our experience dining in the home of a lovely local family included delicious food, but more importantly wonderful conversation and cultural exchange. We enjoyed it immensely. Shukran to our new friends.
Best Beach – It’s a tie! Cenang Beach Lankawi Malaysia and the greater Diani Beach area of Kenya both deserve the gold statue this year. Diani’s baby powder fine white sand and turquoise blue water is one of the reasons it shows up so often on lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But Langkawi’s Cenang Beach, is a clean, long expansive golden beach with incredibly warm waters all with easy access and lots of restaurants and services to make your beach visit comfortable. We loved them both.
Best Tour – Inle Lake Myanmar. Our favorite one-day tour was our all day tour in a local boat seeing all of the beautiful and historic sights around Inle Lake. It was truly unforgettable.
Best Driver – Alehandro in Guatemala was our favorite driver who was not only a safe and exceptional driver, but was a great tour guide, passionate about his country and understanding when I was dealing with severe motion sickness. We became friends. If you need a driver in Guatemala let me know and I can get you in touch with him.
Best Tour Company – China Connections China we don’t use many tour operators, but for our time in China we were taken great care of by several operators and guides secured for us by China Connections, who also booked and organized our Yangtze River Cruise. Everything done without a hitch.
Best Bucket List Historic Site – Bagan Myanmar. I had read so much about Bagan and the unique and ancient temples there but I still was not prepared for it’s ancient religious beauty and the reverent and dedicated Buddhists who come to this place.
Best Natural Site – Glacier National Park, Montana USA. For wildlife spotting in the United States you can’t beat big and beautiful Montana and our visit to Glacier National Park did not disappoint. A top site in the USA you should not miss.
Best Waterfall – Mayan King Waterfall Belize. When our two adult sons visited us in Belize this waterfall was one of the unexpected and fun things we did just outside of Hopkins Belize.
Best Manmade Site – Tikal Guatemala. When I first started researching visiting Guatemala it was because I had heard so much about this remarkable Mayan site. And it was very remarkable. And we were surprised by all of Guatemala but the fascinating Mayan history here was the cherry on the sundae.
Best Mosque– Muscat Oman, Honorable Mention Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the most beautiful if not the most beautiful (better than the Blue Mosque in Turkey even??) I have ever seen. Only a few years old the tiles, hand-knoted carpet and astonishing chandeliers are phenomenal. Our honorable mention goes to the Wilayah Mosque in Kuala Lumpur for the incredible customer service provided visitors there. Where we had a private tour for free and an opportunity to watch the mid-day prayers.
Best Day Hike – Wadi Shab Oman. After not being able to do this on our first try because of a big flood and mudslide the day before, we are so glad we returned a few days later to try again. I think most people would be pretty surprised at the rugged yet beautiful terrain of Oman, and it makes for exceptionally challenging and beautiful hiking.
Best Multi-Day Hike – Hiking from Inle Lake to Kalaw. This two day hike was longer and harder than I thought it would be (I should read the fine print) but the experience was amazing. Our guide was great, the food was surprisingly abundant and delicious and even sleeping on the floor in the home of a local Myanmar family with no electricity or running water was a memorable experience.
Most Unique Outdoor Experience – Learning to Goeduck Even though I was born and raised in Goeduck country, I had my first experience this year in Gig Harbor Washington USA.
Expensive but Worth it – Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride over Bagan Myanmar $700. Ridiculously expensive. Once in a lifetime memorable.
Best Wildlife Experience Orangutan watching in Borneo Malaysia with Honorable Mention to seeing sloths and toucans in Costa Rica. We love it when we can see wildlife in its natural habitat. Our time in Borneo was all and more than I ever could have dreamed of seeing up close and personal the endangered orangutans as well as proboscis monkeys. In Costa Rica a lifetime goal of seeing sloths in the wild was fulfilled.
Most Moving Experience – Journey for Purpose Kayak Trip Belize. If you have a chance, you should do this experience. It was such a wonderful way to stop and appreciate my own self-worth, while getting to know and rejoice together with a group of women I had never met before. The kayaking was hard but the scenery was beautiful with weather that challenged us. And such wonderful memories were made with these women as we held each other up when a family tragedy back home for one women gave us a unique opportunity to show our female nurturing strength and come together as one. I will never forget it. This trip happens annually, learn more here.
Best Performance Marionette Show Mandalay Myanmar. Although Mandalay was not my favorite place, the best thing we did there was attend the Myanmar Puppet Theater and enjoyed exceptionally talented puppeteers who have kept this Myanmar art form alive. Who knew marionettes’ could be so lifelike?
Least English Spoken – Guatemala wins again. Although we were always able to find people who spoke English when necessary, a large portion of the Mayan population in Guatemala who are older than a teenager do not speak any English. English has only been taught in the schools for the past ten years.
Hottest Day: Diani Beach Kenya 91 degrees F and 77 degree dew point. We swooned.
Coldest Day: Port Orchard Washington USA. During our time in the USA we had a couple of very chilly and wet weeks in June that kept us decidedly indoors
Wettest Day: Waking up in Placencia Belize to water all over the floor of our Airbnb and sewer bubbling up out of the holding tank after a torrential downpour all night long.
Best Yoga – Balance Yoga Retreat El Tunco El Salvador. I enjoyed a lot of great yoga around the world this past year with memorable moments in Kota Kinabalu Malaysia (where I did sound healing for the first time) and in La Fortuna Costa Rica, and Punta Cana Dominican Republic but my favorite of possibly all time was the ten days I enjoyed yoga both morning and evening at Balance Yoga Retreat in the tiny paradise of El Tunco El Salvador. Who would have thought?
Best Place to Run – Cenang Beach Langkawi. Getting up early before the heat of the day and running on the safe, flat and fabulous ring road and along the beach boardwalk of the small town of Cenang Beach gave us an entire month to really get back in running shape.
28 flights, 1 train ride, 2 small boat rides, one river cruise
Smallest Airport – Punta Gorda Belize. I am not joking when I say the terminal was a shack about 10’x10′.
Worst Flight Experience – Getting sever motion sickness on a tiny plane from Florez to Guatemala City and then needing to do a three hour drive on winding roads to our final destination of Antigua.
Airport Most in Need of Upgrade – Heho Airport outside of Inle Lake Myanmar. It’s actually pretty busy, but very rundown. The check-in counter looked like something used as a ticket booth at a carnival.
Best Airport – Muscat Oman was shiny and new and very comfortable.
Worst Day of Travel – We had to spend one night in Nairobi before flying on to Mombassa where we would go by car for the 40km trip to Diani Beach. We didn’t know that due to a ferry, that 40km trip usually took 4 hours and on the day we were doing it took 6 and half because of high traffic from the Kenyan holiday of Jamhuri the day before. Not sure how we missed that information in all of our research but it made for a very long and exhausting travel day indeed.
Just Because It’s Unusual Category – Dental Work in San Jose Costa Rica. I didn’t have a category to fit this in but I needed to mention it because it was quit unusual. But I had a wonderful experience at Meza Dental having an extraction and implant done for a third of the cost of doing this in the USA. A year later it is perfectly healed and I would do it again in a heart beat.
Sad But True Category – Photographer Death in Belize While our sons came to visit us in Belize we did some family photos of all of us on the beach with a female photographer I found online. She did a wonderful job and she was creative and nice. We received all the photos via email about a week later. Tragically just a few days after that, she died of a stroke. Rest in peace Marian.
So there you have it. The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2019. What a great year full of incredible experiences around the world. We are the luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?
What a fabulous life it is. WATCH OUT! 27 countries planned for 2020!
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